Skip to main content

Full text of "The True Roger Bacon, I."

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



THE TRUE ROGER BACON, I. 

" Monographs or studies concerning Bacon are numerous, 
perhaps too numerous ", says a recent French writer. 1 Indeed, his 
Opus Mains has been analyzed and paraphrased so often that one 
marvels that all the juice has not been squeezed out of the orange. 
Not only his general philosophy, but his contributions to certain 
particular subjects have been repeatedly treated. 2 But the French 
writer goes on to say that in many of the monographs Bacon is 
misunderstood and misinterpreted, and that they must be read with 
the greatest caution. Also the catalogue of Bacon's works and 
fragments has been added to by recent discoveries. 3 Thirdly, there 
are aspects of his learning which have hitherto not received special 
or proper treatment, namely, the astrology and magic to which he 
gives so much space and emphasis and which so seriously affect all 
his thought, but which probably did not affect his life and the 
attitude of his contemporaries to him in the way that so many have 
assumed. Finally, Bacon has been studied too much in isolation. 
He has been regarded as an exceptional individual ; his environment 
has been estimated at his own valuation of it or according to some 
preconceived idea of his age ; and his writings have not been studied 
in relation to those of his predecessors and contemporaries. 
Thought of as a precursor of modern science, he has been read to 
find germs of modern ideas rather than scrutinized with a view to 
discovering his sources. Yet his constant citing of authorities and 
the helpful foot-notes which Bridges, in his edition of the Opus 
Maius* gives to explain these allusions to other scientists, point 
insistently in the latter direction. When one has gone a step 

i G. Delorme in Vacant and Mangenot, Dictionnaire de ThSologie Catho- 
lique (Paris, 1910), II. 31. For bibliography of writings on Bacon see also 
the article "Roger Bacon" by Theophilus Witzel in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 

2 For example, Cardinal Gasquet opens his contribution to the collection of 
essays written in commemoration of the seventh centenary of Roger's birth by 
saying frankly : " The work of Roger Bacon in regard to the Vulgate is well known. 
His opinions as to the state of the text in the ordinary Bibles of the thirteenth 
century, and his suggestions as to the principles which should regulate any revi- 
sion have been frequently set forth by those interested in the history of the 
Latin Vulgate, whilst many modern writers . . . have written specially upon this 
subject. Little therefore remains to be done but to follow in their footsteps." 
Roger Bacon Essays (collected and edited by A. G. Little, Oxford, 1914), p. 89. 
This will henceforth be cited as Little, Essays. I have reviewed this book in 
the American Historical Review, XX. 386-388. 

3 The latest bibliography of Bacon's writings is contained in Little, Essays, 
pp. 376-425. 

*The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (ed. J. H. Bridges, Oxford, 1897, and a 
third volume in 1900). This will henceforth be cited as Bridges. 

(237) 



238 Lynn Thorndike 

further and has read for their own sake the works of men 
like Adelard of Bath, William of Conches, and Daniel Morlay 
in the twelfth century, or William of Auvergne, Robert Grosse- 
teste and Albertus Magnus in the early and middle thirteenth 
century, the true position of Roger Bacon in the history of 
thought grows clearer. One then re-reads his works with a new 
insight, finds that a different interpretation may be put upon many 
a passage, and realizes that even in his most boastful moments 
Roger himself never made such claims to astounding originality as 
some modern writers have made for him. Conversely, one is im- 
pelled to the conclusion that Bacon's writings, instead of being un- 
palatable to, neglected by, and far in advance of, his times, give a 
most valuable picture of medieval thought, summarizing, it is true, 
its most advanced stages, but also including much that is most 
characteristic, and even revealing some of its back currents. It is 
from this standpoint that we shall consider Roger Bacon and en- 
deavor to refute misconceptions that have grown up concerning his 
life and learning. 

Past estimates of Bacon's learning have been greatly affected 
by their holders' views of his life; but his biography is gradually 
being shorn of fictions and losing that sensational and exceptional 
character which gave countenance to the representation of his 
thought as far in advance of his age. We cannot tell to which of 
several families of Bacons mentioned in feudal registers and other 
documents of the times he belonged, and the exact date and place 
of his birth are uncertain. 5 But he speaks of England as his 
native land, and in 1267 looks back upon a past of some forty years 
of study and twenty years of specialization in his favorite branches 
of learning. 6 Also he speaks of one brother as rich, of another as 
a student, and of his family's suffering exile for their support of 
Henry III. against the barons. 7 He implies that up to 1267 he had 
not been outside France and England, 8 but he had sent across the 

5 Charles Jourdain, " Discussion de Quelques Points de la Biographie de 
Roger Bacon ", in his Excursions Historiques et Philosophiques a trovers le 
Moyen Age, pp. 131-145. 

8 See pages 63 and 50 of Fr. Rogeri Bacon, Opera quaedam hactenus inedita 
(ed. J. S. Brewer, London, 1859), in vol. XV. of Rerum Britannicarum Medii 
Aevi Scriptores (Rolls Series). This will henceforth be cited as Brewer. The 
volume includes part of Bacon's Opus Tertium, part of the Opus Minus, part of 
the Compendium Philosophiae , and the Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et 
Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae. 

7 Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 16 and 13; see also, Rev. F. A. Gasquet, "An 
Unpublished Fragment of a Work by Roger Bacon ", in the English Historical 
Review, XII. 502. This latter article will henceforth be cited as Gasquet. This 
fragment published by Gasquet is evidently the first part of the Opus Minus. 

8 Opus Minus, Brewer, p. 318. If however we accept as a genuine work 
of Bacon the letter on retarding the accidents of old age which he is supposed to 
have sent to Pope Innocent IV. (1243-1254), we shall have to admit that he had 
been " in partibus Romanis ". See Little, Essays, pp. 4 and 399. 



The True Roger Bacon 239 

seas for material to assist his special investigations and had spent 
large sums of money. 9 

Before he became a friar he had written text-books for students, 
and had worked so hard that men wondered that he still lived. 
When or why he joined the Franciscans we are not informed, but 
his doing so is no cause for wonder, for both orders were rich in 
learned men, including students of natural science. Bacon tells us 
that after becoming a friar he was able to study as much as before, 
but " did not work so much ", probably because he now had less 
teaching to do. For about ten years before 1267, instead of being 
imprisoned and ill treated by his order, as was once believed with- 
out foundation, he was, as we now know from his own words dis- 
covered in 1897, in poor health and " took no part in the outward 
affairs of the university". This abstention caused the report to 
spread that he was devoting all his time to writing, especially since 
many were aware that he had long intended to sum up his knowl- 
edge in a magnum opus, but he actually " composed nothing except 
a few chapters, now about one science and now about another, 
compiled in odd moments at the instance of friends ". At least 
this is what he told the pope in 1267 when trying to excuse himself 
for having had no completed work ready to submit to the supreme 
pontiff. 10 

R. H. Major's Prince Henry the Navigator 11 is responsible for 
the spread of the story that in 1258 Brunetto Latini saw Friar 
Bacon at the Parliament at Oxford and was shown by him the 
secret of the magnetic needle, which Roger dared not divulge for 
fear of being accused of magic. The supposed letter of Brunetto 
Latini to the poet Guido Cavalcanti, from which these data are 
drawn, seems to have been a hoax or fanciful production appearing 
first in 1802 in the Monthly Magazine 12 among " Extracts from the 
Portfolio of a Man of Letters ", who is said to have translated them 
from "the French patois of the Romansch language". Certainly 
the mariner's compass was pretty well known in Bacon's time, nor 
are we informed of any case where it involved its possessor in a 
trial for magic. Bacon says in one passage that if the experiment 
of the magnet with respect to iron " were not known to the world, 
it would seem a great miracle ". 1S In another place he grants that 
even the common herd of philosophers know of the magnetic needle ; 
he merely criticizes their belief that the needle always turns towards 

9 Gasquet, p. 502. 

i° Ibid., p. 500, and Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 65. 

11 Brewer, p. 58. 

12 The Monthly Magazine or British Register, XIII. 449. 
" Bridges, II. 218. 



240 Lynn Thorndike 

the north star; Roger thinks that it can be made to turn to any 
other point of the compass if only it has been properly magnetized. 14 
Perhaps the Latini story was suggested by a third passage, where 
Bacon says, in order to illustrate his statement that philosophers 
have sometimes resorted to charms and incantations to hide their 
secrets from the unworthy, "As if, for instance, it were quite 
unknown that the magnetic needle attracts iron and someone wish- 
ing to perform this operation before the people should make char- 
acters and utter incantations, so that they might not see that the 
operation of attraction was entirely natural ". 15 

Bacon's career centres about a papal mandate which was des- 
patched to him in the summer of 1266. Guy de Foulques, who 
became Clement IV. on February 5, 1265, had at some previous 
time requested Bacon to send him the scriptum principale or com- 
prehensive work on philosophy which he had been led to think was 
already written. 16 On June 22, 1266, he repeated this request in 
the form of a papal mandate, which is extant. 17 The former 
letter is lost, but both Bacon and the pope refer to it. 18 Somehow 
writers on Bacon have paid little heed to this first request, have 
assumed that Bacon wrote his three works to the pope in about a 
year 19 despite the "impediments" upon which he dwells, and have 
therefore been filled with admiration at the superhuman genius 
which could produce such works at such short notice while laboring 
under such difficulties. 20 But this is assuming that Roger had done 
nothing in the considerable interval between the two mandates. 

14 Opus Minus, Brewer, pp. 383-384. 

15 Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis, Brewer, p. 525. 

16 Gasquet, p. 511: " Scripto principali, quod vestra postulat reverentia ". 
Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 58 : " Propter vestrae gloriae mandatum, de quo con- 
fundor et doleo quod non adimplevi sub forma verborum vestrorum, ut scriptum 
philosophiae mitterem principale." Also p. 18. 

17 Brewer, p. 1; Bridges, I. 1-2, note; Wadding, Annal. Minor., IV. 265; 
Martene, Thesaurus Novus Anecdotorum, II. 358. 

*8 Brewer, p. 1 : " Opus illud quod te dilecto filio Raymundo de Landuno com- 
municare rogavimus in minori officio constituti." Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 14: 
Bacon says that Albert and William of Shyrwood could not send the pope what he 
has written, " infra tantum tempus ... a vestro mandato ; et sicut nee ab ultimo, 
sic nee a primo ". Gasquet, p. 500: "Sed licet pleno desiderio quod iniunctum 
est complere pro posse meo sim teste Deo paratissimus, cum quoniam in minori 
officio constituti postulastis non fuerunt composita que iussistis " and " utrumque 
mandatum " and " antequam primum vestre dominations recepi mandatum." 
The following sentence (Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 13) also seems to refer to the 
former mandate, despite the " ultimo ", " Non enim quando ultimo scripsistis 
fuerunt composita quae iussistis, licet hoc credebatis." 

1 9 Little, Essays, p. 11: "His first project was an elaborate one, including a 
systematic and scientific treatment of the various branches of knowledge ; he 
worked at this, writing parts of the Communia Naturalium and Communia Mathe- 
maticae, for some months (' till after Epiphany ', i, e. January 6, 1267), but found 
it impossible. He then started again on a more modest scale and wrote in the 
next twelve months the preliminary treatise known as the Opus Mains, which 
was supplemented by the Opus Minus, and, subsequently, by the Opus Tertium." 

20 Brewer, p. xlv. 



The True Roger Bacon 241 

And why does he keep apologizing for "so great delay in this 
matter", and "your clemency's impatience at hope deferred"? 21 
Moreover, his excuses do not all apply to the same period, and most 
of them are excuses for not having composed a full exposition of 
philosophy rather than for not having composed sooner the Opus 
Mains, which Roger regarded as a mere preamble to philosophy. 
One set of excuses explains why he had no comprehensive work 
ready when the first request arrived. 22 A second set explains why 
he had not written it in the interval between the two mandates. 23 
A third set explains why he finally does not write it at all but sends 
instead an introductory treatise, the Opus Maius, supplemented 
by two others, the Opus Minus and Opus Tertium. Of course 
some excuses hold equally good for all three periods. But he states 
in the third treatise that in writing the second he was free from 
some of the " impediments " which had hampered his composition 
of the Opus Maius. 2 * As he also says that one reason for writing 
the Opus Minus was lest the Opus Maius be lost amid the great 
dangers of the roads at that time, one infers that the latter work 
was despatched before the other. Moreover, the Opus Minus 
opens with a eulogy of the pope which is absent in the Opus 
Maius, 2s in which there are very few passages to suggest that it 
is addressed to the pope, or written later than 1266. 26 

21 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 14: " Non igitur mirandum si ego dilationem 
tantam fecerim in hac parte." Ibid., pp. 16-17: " Multotiens dimisi opus, et 
multotiens desperavi et neglexi procedere." Ibid., p. 17 : " Tanta dilatio in hoc 
negotio . . . vestrae clementiae taedium pro spe dilata ", and other passages. 

22 These excuses are listed in Gasquet, p. 500, to " antequam primum vestre 
dominationis recepi mandatum " ; and are repeated in part in Opus Tertium, 
Brewer, p. 13. 

23 To this period the difficulties listed in Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 15-17 
(middle), would seem to apply. In Brewer, p. 16, and Gasquet, p. 502, Bacon states 
that to get money to meet the expenses incident to the composition of his work 
he had sent to his rich brother in England, but received no response because 
" exiles and enemies of the king occupied the land of my birth ", while his own 
family had been exiled as supporters of the crown and ruined financially. All 
this must have occurred before the arrival of the second papal letter in 1266, 
for Simon de Montfort had been slain and the barons defeated in 1265. 

24 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 5 : " Et impedimentorum remedia priorum 
nactus ". 

25 As Bacon himself states in the Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 7, " Primo igitur 
in opere Secundo ". 

2 8 I cannot agree with Gasquet, p. 497, that it " is obvious from numberless 
expressions in the work itself " that the Opus Maius was " addressed to the 
pope directly ". The last chapter of the first book in Bridges's text is evidently 
addressed to the pope, but it is identical with a portion of the Opus Minus and 
evidently does not belong in the Opus Maius and is not found in the two oldest 
manuscripts. Similarly a passage of some 16 pages in Bridges on calendar re- 
form, which gives the present year as 1267, is practically identical with a chapter 
of the Opus Ter.tium and was evidently transferred from that work to the Opus 
Maius at some later date. When we have excluded these passages the work is 
surprisingly free, compared to the other two works, from passages suggesting that 
it is addressed to the pope. The one mention of the " Apostolic See " (Bridges. 
I. 77; III. 94) is impersonal and does not imply that Foulques was pope, and 

AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XXI. — 16. 



242 Lynn Thorndike 

The Opus Mains, therefore, was practically finished, if not 
already sent, when the papal mandate of 1266 reached Bacon. 
When Roger learned that Foulques as pope was still interested in 
his work, visions of what the apostolic see might do for his pro- 
gramme of learning and himself flashed before his mind, and, 
after a fresh but vain effort at a scriptum principale, which kept 
him busy until Epiphany, he composed the supplementary treatise, 
the Opus Minus, with its adulatory introduction to Clement IV., 
with its excuses for sending or having sent a preambulatory treatise 
instead of a complete work of philosophy, with its hints that such 
a final treatise can be successfully completed only with the financial 
backing of the unlimited papal resources, with its analysis of the 
preceding work for the benefit of the busy pope and its suggestions 
as to what portions of it he might profitably omit, and with its 
additions of matter which in the Opus Maius Roger had either 
forgotten or at that time had not been in a position to insert. The 
third work, Opus Tertium, is of the same sort but apparently more 
disorderly in arrangement, and looser and more extravagant in its 
tone. Presumably it was undertaken to remind the pope again of 
Bacon's existence and proposals; it is even conceivable that Roger 
was a little unstrung when he composed it; it has been suggested 
that it was left unfinished and never sent to the pope, who died 
in 1268. A part at least of the Opus Tertium was written in 1267." 

The extant papal mandate orders Bacon not only to send his 
book, but to state " what remedies you advise for the matters indi- 
cated by you recently on so critical an occasion", and to "do this 
without delay as secretly as you can". 28 This allusion to a crisis 

does not occur in one of the manuscripts. Epithets such as " Your Wisdom " 
(Bridges, I. 17, 23, 305), "Your Highness" (I. 210; II. 377), "Your Glory" 
(I. 305; III. 96), "Your Reverence" (I. 376; II. 219), "Your Holiness" (I. 81; 
III. 101), "Your Beatitude" (I. 2, 72; III. 88) do not occur frequently and are 
either equally applicable to a cardinal, or not found in all the manuscripts, sug- 
gesting the possibility of their having been inserted later. 

27 Such seems to me the most plausible theory of the writing of the three 
works and the one which agrees best with Bacon's own statements; but it is only 
a hypothesis from the printed texts of his works which should be verified by 
examination of the manuscripts. Probably some of Bacon's statements can be 
interpreted to conflict with this hypothesis, but they sometimes conflict with each 
other, and he could not even keep the scriptum principale and Opus Maius dis- 
tinct in his own mind according to Brewer's text (p. 3, "duo transmisi genera 
scripturarum : quorum unum est principale ", and p. 5, " principalis scripturae ", 
whereas at p. 60 we read, " Patet igitur quod scriptum principale non potui mit- 
tere"). See also Gasquet, p. 503, and Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 58. I have 
been stimulated by but cannot accept the conclusions of Father Mandonnet's 
" Roger Bacon et la Composition des Trois ' Opus ' ", Revue Neo-Scolastique 
(Louvain, 1913), pp. 52-68, and 164-180. Mandonnet holds that the Opus Maius 
was written after the other two works, which were never finished nor sent, but 
from which Roger took some passages to insert in the Opus Maius, which Man- 
donnet believes was sent only in 1268. 

28 " Quae tibi videntur adhibenda remedia circa ilia, quae nuper occasione 
tanti discriminis intimasti : et hoc quanto secretius poteris facias indilate." 
Brewer, p. 1. 



The True Roger Bacon 243 

and this injunction of secrecy have cast a certain veil of mystery 
over the three works and the relations of Roger and the pope. The 
recent critical occasion may have been the time when Guy de Foul- 
ques as papal legate was refused admission to England; or, if we 
judge from the contents of Bacon's replies, the crisis would seem 
to be either the menace of the Tatars to the western Christian 
world, or the near advent of Antichrist, in which Bacon with many 
others of his century seems to have believed, or the situation in the 
contemporary world of learning, which Roger certainly regarded 
as requiring the immediate application of remedies. Observance 
of secrecy may have been intended to guard against such frauds 
of copyists as we shall soon hear Bacon describe, or to secure some 
alchemistic arcana or practical inventions which the pope had been 
led to expect from him. Indeed, so far as alchemy was concerned, 
Bacon observed the injunction of secrecy so strictly that he divided 
his discussion of the subject among four different treatises sent to 
the pope at different times and by different messengers, so that no 
outsider might steal the precious truth. It must be added that even 
after receiving all four installments, the pope would not have been 
much nearer the philosopher's stone than before. 29 

Another moot question in Bacon's biography besides that of 
the composition of the three works is that of his relations with the 
Franciscan order. We have seen that it was natural for him to 
join it, and that the change, at first at least, seemed one for the 
better. Bacon, however, found irksome the rule made by the order 
in 1260, as a consequence of the publication in 1254 of Gerard's 
heretical Intro duct orius in Evangelium Aeternum, that in the 
future no Franciscan should publish anything without permission. 30 
Roger wished to employ amanuenses even in composing his works, 
and these men, he tells the pope, would often divulge "the most 
secret writings " and so involve one in unintentional violation of the 
above rule. "And therefore", says Bacon, "I did not feel the 
least bit like writing anything ". 31 For a man so easily discouraged 
one cannot feel much sympathy. There is however another im- 
portant inference from his statement : instead of his writings being 
neglected by his age, they are so valued that they are pirated 
before they have been published. Moreover, this rule of his order 

29 Part of the Opus Tertium of Roger Bacon (ed. A. G. Little, Aberdeen, 
1912), pp. 80-82. This passage is the fourth one and in it Bacon lists the three 
earlier statements : " Scripsi in tribus locis Vestre Glorie de huiusmodi secretis." 
Roger ultimately decides that he will not reveal the whole secret even in this 
fourth installment, because alchemists never put the full truth into writing; he 
therefore " reserves some points for word of mouth ". 

so See the article on " Roger Bacon " by Theophilus Witzel in the Catholic 
Encyclopedia. 

31 Gasquet, p. 500. " Et ideo componere penitus abhorrebam ", etc. 



244 Lynn Thorndike 

should not have hampered Bacon much in writing for the pope; 
indeed, Roger himself implies that he was exempted from this 
restriction in the earlier request from the cardinal as well as in the 
later papal mandate. Raymond of Laon, Bacon grants, had cor- 
rectly informed " Your Magnificence, as both the mandates state ", 
concerning this regulation, though he had given a wrong im- 
pression as to what Bacon already had written. 32 

We have heard from Bacon's own mouth that he did little 
public teaching after becoming a friar, that he had as much time 
for private study as ever, and that everybody supposed him to be 
at work at his magnum opus. Yet in the Opus Minus he grumbles 
that " his prelates were at him every day to do other things " 3S before 
he received the first mandate from the cardinal, and that even there- 
after he was unable to excuse himself fully from their demands 
upon his time, "because Your Lordship had ordered me to treat 
that business secretly, nor had Your Glory given them any in- 
structions". 34 In the Opus Tertium he describes the same situa- 
tion in stronger language: "They pressed me with unspeakable 
violence to obey their will as others did", and "I sustained so 
many and so great set-backs that I can not tell them". 35 On how 
we interpret a few such passages as these depends our estimate of 
the attitude of the Franciscan order before 1267 to Bacon and his 
ideas and researches. He gives so many other reasons why he has 
no comprehensive work of philosophy ready for the pope that this 
attitude of his superiors seems a relatively slight factor. He 
needed much money, he needed expensive instruments, he needed 
a large library, he needed "plenty of parchment", he needed a 
corps of assistant investigators and another of copyists with skilled 
superintendents to direct their efforts and insert figures and other 
delicate details. It was a task beyond the powers of any one man ; 
besides, he was in ill-health, he felt languid, he composed very 
slowly. Shall we blame his superiors for not providing him with 
this expensive equipment ; and are we surprised, when we remember 
that the mandates directed him to send a book supposed to be 
already finished, that his superiors continued to ask of him the 
performance of his usual duties as a friar? Surely their attitude 
cannot be called persecution of Bacon nor hostility to his science. 36 

3 2 Gasquet, p. 500. 

33 Ibid. 

3* Ibid., p. 502. 

35 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 13. 

3« P. Feret, " Les Emprisonnements de Roger Bacon ", Revue des Questions 
Historiques, L. 119-142 (1801), shows how through the nineteenth century the 
legend of Bacon's persecution kept receiving additions at the hands of imagina- 
tive writers. Abbe Feret wrote in 1891 ; the fragment discovered in 1897 by 
Gasquet renders the legend even more untenable. 



The True Roger Bacon 245 

In 1272 in the Compendium Philosophiae Bacon lays bare the 
failings of "the two orders" as if he belonged to neither, but he 
then proceeds to refute indignantly those masters at Paris who have 
tried to argue that the state of the higher secular clergy, such as 
bishops, is more perfect than that of the religious. 37 

In 1277 however we learn "solely on the very contestable 
authority of the Chronicle of the XXIV Generals" 38 that at the 
suggestion of many friars the teaching of " Friar Roger Bacon of 
England, master of sacred theology ", was condemned as containing 
" some suspected novelties ", that Roger was sentenced to prison, 
and that the pope was asked to help to suppress the dangerous 
doctrines in question. It has been a favorite conjecture of students 
of Bacon that he incurred this condemnation by his leanings toward 
astrology and magic ; when I come to discuss his opinions on those 
points, I shall show how unfounded is this supposition. Suffice it 
here to note that the wording of the chronicle suggests nothing of 
the sort, but rather some details of doctrine, whereas had Bacon 
been charged with magic, we may be pretty sure that so sensational 
a feature would not have passed unmentioned. 

This is about all that we know of Bacon's life except the dates 
of one or two more of his works. Mr. Little regards it as "cer- 
tain that Roger's last dated work was written in 1292 ", s9 but the 
evidence for this is a single passage in one manuscript ; other state- 
ments in the work in question sound as if penned earlier. 

We turn from Bacon's life to his writings, and shall centre our 
attention upon his three works to the pope. In them he had his 
greatest opportunity and did his best work both in style and sub- 
stance. They embody most of his ideas and knowledge. Two 
of them are merely supplementary to the Opus Maius and are 
parallel to it in aims, plan, and contents. Its two chief aims were 
to demonstrate the practical utility of "philosophy", especially to 
the Church, and secondly, to reform the present state of learning 
according to Bacon's idea of the relative importance of the sciences. 
Having convinced himself that an exhaustive work on philosophy 
was not yet possible, Roger substituted this introductory treatise, 
outlining the paths along which future study and investigation 
should go. Of the thirty divisions of philosophy he considers only 
the five which he deems the most important and essential, namely, 

37 Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, pp. 399, 425, 431. 

38 G. Delorme, " Roger Bacon ", in Vacant and Mangenot, Dictionnaire de 
Theologie Catholique, II. (1910) ; " Ce fait, base uniquement sur l'autorite fort 
contestable de la chronique des xxiv generaux", Analecta Franciscana (Quarac- 
chi, 1897), III. 460. 

39 Essays, p. 27; Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant (second ed.), I. 248, questions 
this date. 



246 Lynn Thorndike 

the languages, " mathematics ", perspective or optic, " experimental 
science" (including alchemy), and moral philosophy, which last he 
regards as " the noblest " and " the mistress of them all ". 40 Treated 
in this order, these " sciences " form the themes of the last five of 
the seven sections of the Opus Maius. Inasmuch as Roger re- 
garded himself as a reformer of the state of learning, he prefixed a 
first part on the causes of human error to justify his divergence 
from the views of the multitude. His second section develops his 
ideas as to the relations of " philosophy " and theology. 

The mere plan of the Opus Maius thus indicates that it is not 
exclusively devoted to natural science. "Divine wisdom", or 
theology, is the end that all human thought should serve, and moral- 
ity is the supreme science. Children should receive more educa- 
tion in the Bible and the fundamentals of Christianity, and spend 
less time upon " the fables and insanities " of Ovid and other poets 
who are full of errors in faith and morals. 41 In discussing other 
sciences Bacon's eye is ever fixed upon their utility " to the Church 
of God, to the republic of the faithful, toward the conversion of 
infidels and the conquest of such as cannot be converted". 42 This 
service is to be rendered not merely by practical inventions or 
calendar reform or revision of the Vulgate, but by aiding in most 
elaborate and far-fetched allegorical interpretation of the Bible. 
To give a very simple example of this, it is not enough for the 
interpreter of Scripture to know that the lion is the king of beasts ; 
he must be so thoroughly acquainted with all the lion's natural 
properties that he can tell whether in any particular passage it is 
meant to typify Christ or the devil. 43 Also the marvels of human 
science strengthen our faith in divine miracles. 44 Bacon speaks 
of philosophy as the handmaid of " sacred wisdom " ; 45 he asserts 
that all truth is contained in Scripture, though philosophy and 
canon law are required for its comprehension and exposition, and 
that anything alien therefrom is utterly erroneous. 46 Nay more, 
the Bible is surer ground than philosophy even in the latter's own 
field of the natures and properties of things. 47 Furthermore, 
"philosophy considered by itself is of no utility". 48 Bacon be- 
lieved not only that the active intellect (intellectus agens) by which 

40 Gasquet, p. 509. 

41 Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 54-55. 

42 This was a favorite formula with Bacon ; see Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 
3-4, 20; Gasquet, pp. 502, 509. 

43 Opus Minus, Brewer, p. 388. 

44 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 52. 

45 Gasquet, p. 509. 

48 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 81. 
47 Bridges, I. 43. 
**Ibid., p. 56. 



The True Roger Bacon 247 

our minds are illuminated was from God and not an integral part 
of the human mind, 49 but that all philosophy had been revealed by 
God to the sainted patriarchs and again to Solomon, 80 and that 
it was impossible for man by his own efforts to attain to " the great 
truths of the arts and sciences". 51 Bacon alludes several times 
to sin as an obstacle to the acquisition of science; 62 on the other 
hand, he observes that contemporary Christians are inferior morally 
to the pagan philosophers, from whose books they might well take 
a leaf. 53 All this gives little evidence of an independent scientific 
spirit, or of appreciation of experimental method as the one sure 
foundation of scientific knowledge. We see how much of a 
medieval friar and theologian and how little of a modern scientist 
Roger could be. It must, of course, be remembered that he is 
trying to persuade the Church to support scientific research; still, 
there seems to be no sufficient reason for doubting his sincerity in 
the above statements, though we must discount here as elsewhere 
his tendency to make emphatic and sweeping assertions. 

Writers as far back as Cousin 54 and Charles 55 have recognized 
that Bacon was interested in the scholasticism of his time as well 
as in natural science. His separate works on the Metaphysics and 
Physics of Aristotle are pretty much the usual sort of medieval 
commentary ; 56 the tiresome dialectic of the " Questions on Aris- 
totle's Physics" is well brought out in Duhem's essay, "Roger 
Bacon et l'Horreur du Vide". 57 Bacon's works dedicated to the 
pope, on the contrary, are written to a considerable extent in a 
clear, direct, outspoken style ; and the subjects of linguistics, mathe- 
matics, and experimental science seem at first glance to offer little 
opportunity for metaphysical disquisitions or scholastic method. 
Yet, here too, much space is devoted to intellectual battledore and 
shuttlecock with such concepts as matter and form, moved and 
mover, agent and patient, element and compound. 58 Such current 

* 9 Ibid., p. 41. Bacon is believed to have rather misrepresented the posi- 
tion of William of Auvergne on this point, when he says that William twice re- 
proved at Paris those who held the active intellect to be part of the soul. N. 
Valois, Guillaume d' Auvergne (Paris, 1880), pp. 289-290; fi. Charles, Roger 
Bacon: sa Vie, ses Ouvrages, ses Doctrines (Bordeaux, 1861), p. 327. 

so Ibid., p. 45 ; Gasquet, p. 508 ; Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 24. 

51 Bridges, I. 45. 

52 Ibid., II. 170; Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, pp. 405, 408. 

53 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 50: " Mirum enim est de nobis Christianis, qui 
sine comparatione sumus imperfectiores in moribus quam philosophi infideles. 
Legantur decern libri Ethicorum Aristotelis et innumerabiles Senecae, et Tullii, 
et aliorum, et inveniemus quod sumus in abysso vitiorum." 

si V. Cousin, Journal des Savants, 1848, p. 467. 

55 Charles, Roger Bacon. This work will hereafter be cited as Charles. 

58 Little, Essays, p. 4 : " They are in the prevalent dialectic style, and per- 
haps might be put into the class of works which Bacon afterwards ridiculed as 
' horse-loads '." 

57 Ibid., pp. 241-284. 

68 Opus Minus, Brewer, pp. 360-367. 



248 Lynn Thorndike 

problems as the unity of the intellect, the source of the intellectus 
agens, and the unity or infinity of matter are introduced for dis- 
cussion, 59 although the question of universals is briefly dismissed. 60 
Two other characteristic traits of scholasticism are found in the 
Opus Mains, namely, continual use of authorities and the highest 
regard for Aristotle, "summus philosophorum ", 61 as Bacon calls 
him. Because in one passage in his Compendium Philosophiae 
Bacon says in his exaggerated way that he would burn all the Latin 
translations of Aristotle if he could, 62 it has sometimes been as- 
sumed that he was opposed to the medieval study of Aristotle. Yet 
in the very next sentence he declares that " Aristotle's labors are the 
foundations of all wisdom ". What he wanted was more, not less 
Aristotle. He believed that Aristotle had written a thousand 
works. 68 He complains quite as much that certain works of 
Aristotle have not yet been translated into Latin as he does that 
others have been translated incorrectly. As a matter of fact, he 
himself seems to have made about as many mistakes in connection 
with the study of Aristotle as did anyone else. He thought many 
apocryphal writings genuine, such as the Secret of Secrets, 6 * an 
astrological treatise entitled De Impressionibus Coelestibus, es and 
other writings concerning "the arcana of science" and "marvels 
of nature". 66 He overestimated Aristotle and blamed the trans- 
lators for obscurities and difficulties which abound in the Greek 
text itself. He declares that a few chapters of Aristotle's Laws 
are superior to the entire corpus of Roman law. 67 His assertion 
that Robert Grosseteste paid no attention to translations of Aristotle 
is regarded as misleading by Baur. 68 He nowhere gives credit to 
Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas for their great commen- 
taries on Aristotle, 69 which are superior to any that he wrote. He 
bases some of his own views upon mistranslations of Aristotle, sub- 
stituting, for instance, "matter" for "substance" — a mistransla- 
tion avoided by Albert and Thomas. 70 

59 Bridges, I. 38, 143 ; Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 120. 

60 Bridges, I. 42. 

8i Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 6. 
c 2 Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, p. 469. 

QZIbid., p. 473. Compendium Studii Theologiae (ed. H. Rashdall) in vol. 
III. of British Society of Franciscan Studies (Aberdeen, 1911), p. 34- 

e* He wrote a commentary on it; see Tanner MSS., 116, Bodleian Library. 

«« Bridges, I. 389. 

66 Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, p. 473. 

eT Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 50 ; Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, p. 422. 

68 Ludwig Baur, Die Philosophischen Werke des Robert Grosseteste (Mfinster, 
191 2; Bd. IX. in Baeumker's Beitrage z. Gesch. d. Philos. d. Mittelalters) , p. 15. 

69 Cousin, Journal des Savants, 1848, p. 300, concludes that because Bacon 
asserts that the Politics of Aristotle is not yet in use among the Latins, Albertus 
and Aquinas did not write their commentaries on this work until after 1266. 

to K. Werner, " Die Kosmologie und Allgemeine Naturlehre des Roger 



The True Roger Bacon 249 

Despite its theological and scholastic proclivities Bacon's mind 
had a decidedly critical bent. He was, like Petrarch, profoundly- 
pessimistic as to his own times. Church music, present-day 
sermons, the immorality of monks and theologians, the misconduct 
of students at Oxford and Paris, the wars and exactions of kings 
and feudal lords, the prevalence of Roman Law — these are some 
of the faults he has to find with his age. 71 The Opus Maius is 
largely devoted, not to objective presentation of facts and discus- 
sion of theories, but to subjective criticism of the state of learn- 
ing and even of individual contemporary scholars. This last is 
so unusual that Bacon excuses himself for it to the pope in both 
the supplementary treatises. 72 Several other works of Bacon dis- 
play the same critical tendency. The Compendium Philosophiae 
enlarges upon the complaints and criticisms of the three works. 
In the Tractatus de Erroribus Medicorum he detected in con- 
temporary medicine "thirty-six great and radical defects with in- 
finite ramifications ". 73 But in medicine, too, his own contributions 
are of little account. In the Compendium Studii Theologiae, after 
contemptuous allusion to the huge Summae of the past fifty years, 
he opens with an examination of the problems of speculative 
philosophy which underlie the questions discussed by contemporary 
theologians. As far as we know that is as far as he got. And in 
the five neglected sciences to which his Opus Maius was a mere 
introduction he seems to have made little further progress than is 
there recorded; it has yet to be proved that he made any definite 
original contribution to any particular science or branch of learning. 

After all, we must keep in mind the fact that in ancient and 
medieval times hostile criticism was more likely to hit the mark 
than were attempts at constructive thought and collection of scien- 
tific details. There were plenty of wrong ideas to knock down; 
it was not easy to find a rock foundation to build upon, or materials 
without some hidden flaw. The church fathers made many telling 
shots in their bombardment of pagan thought; their own interpre- 
tation of nature and life less commands our admiration. So Roger 
Bacon, by devpting much of his space to criticism of the mistakes 
of others and writing " preambles " to science and theology, avoided 
treacherous detail — a wise caution for his times. Thus he con- 
structed a sort of intellectual portico more pretentious than he 

Bacon", in Sitzungsberichte of the Vienna Academy, ph.-hist. CI. (Vienna, 1879), 
XCIV. 495. For further errors by Bacon concerning the text of Aristotle see 
Duhem, " Roger Bacon et l'Horreur du Vide ", in Little, Essays, pp. 254 and 259. 

f 1 Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 302, 304 ; Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, 
pp. 412, 429, 399, 418 ff. ; and Opus Tertium, pp. 84 ff. 

72 Gasquet, p. 503 ; Brewer, pp. 29-30. 

13 Little, Essays, p. 347 ; E. Withington, " Roger Bacon and Medicine ". 



250 Lynn Thorndike 

could have justified by his main building. To a superficial observer 
this portico may seem a fitting entrance to the temple of modern 
science, but a closer examination discovers that it is built of the 
same faulty materials as the neglected ruins of his contemporaries' 
science. 

Merely to have assumed a critical point of view in the Middle 
Ages may seem a distinction ; but Abelard, Adelard of Bath, William 
of Conches, and Daniel Morlay were all critical, back in the twelfth 
century. Moreover, our estimate of any critic must take into ac- 
count how valid, how accurate, how original, and how consistent 
his criticisms were and from what motives they proceeded. Some 
of Bacon's complaints the reader of medieval literature has often 
listened to before. What student of philosophy in the twelfth and 
thirteenth centuries had not sighed at the invasion of the Roman 
Law into school and Church and State? What devotee of astron- 
omy had failed to contrast its human interest and divine relation- 
ships with the dry drubbing of the jurists? What learned man 
had not expressed his preference for the wise and the experts 
(sapientes) over the vulgus or common herd? The great secrets 
of learning and the danger of casting pearls before swine were also 
quite familiar concepts. If Bacon goes a step farther and speaks of 
a vulgus studentium and even of a vulgus medicorum, he is only 
refining a medieval commonplace. 

In Bacon's discussion of the four causes of human error his 
attack upon undue reliance on authority has often seemed to modern 
readers most unusual for his age. But all his arguments against 
authority are drawn from authorities ; ri and while he seems to have 
got a whiff of the spirit of rationalism from such classical writers 
as Seneca and Cicero, he also quotes the Natural Questions of his 
fellow-countryman, Adelard of Bath, who in the early twelfth 
century had found the doctrine of the schools of Gaul as little to 
his liking as was that of Paris to Roger's taste, and who had gone 
to Spain and the Saracens for new ideas, and of whose originality 
and scientific standpoint I have treated elsewhere. 75 Bacon does 

m Rashdall says in the introduction to his edition of Bacon's Compendium 
Studii Theologiae (Aberdeen, 1911), p. 3: "There is a certain irony in the fact 
that the writer's argument in favor of independent thinking as against authority 
consists chiefly of a series of citations." 

'5 Bridges, I. 5-6, and also p. 7, where Bacon quotes another sentence from 
Adelard without naming him, " Et ideo multi . . . cur a tergo non scribitis." 
Adelardus Bathoniensis, Questiones Naturales (Louvain, 1480). Also at Eton 
College, MS. 161, of the twelfth century. I have discussed Adelard somewhat 
in a lecture on " Natural Science in the Middle Ages ", Popular Science Monthly, 
September, 1915, pp. 271-291; and in Nature, February 4, 1915, pp. 616-617, 
" Adelard of Bath and the Continuity of Universal Nature ", where I show that a 
theory in physics whose origin Professor Duhem attributes to Bacon is found 
earlier in Adelard. 



The True Roger Bacon 25 1 

not cite another twelfth-century Englishman, Daniel Morlay; but 
his fourth cause of human error, the concealment of ignorance by 
a false show of learning, might well have been suggested by passages 
in Daniel's preface to the Bishop of Norwich. There Daniel sati- 
rizes the bestiales who occupied chairs in the schools of Paris " with 
grave authority", and reverently marked their Ulpians with 
daggers and asterisks, and seemed wise as long as they concealed 
their ignorance by a statuesque silence, but whom he found " most 
childish" when they tried to say anything. He also warns his 
readers not to spurn Arabic clarity for Latin obscurity ; it is owing 
to their ignorance and inability to attain definite conclusions that 
Latin philosophers of his day spin so many elaborate figments and 
hide " uncertain error under the shadow of ambiguity ". 76 

Bacon's criticisms have usually been taken to apply to medieval 
learning as a whole, but a closer examination shows their applica- 
tion to be much more limited. In the first place, he is thinking only 
of the past " forty years " in making his complaints ; in the good 
old days of Grosseteste, Adam Marsh, William Wolf, and William 
of Shyrwood things were different and scholarship flowed smoothly, 
if not copiously, in the channels marked out by the ancient sages ; 77 
nor does Bacon deny that there was a renaissance of natural science 
and an independent scientific spirit still farther back in the twelfth 
century. 78 

78 Philosophia Magistri Danielis de Merlai ad Iohannem Norwicensem Epis- 
copum, Arundel MSS., 377 (British Museum), fols. 88-103, thirteenth century. A 
little of it has been printed by T. Wright, Biogr. Brit. Lit. (London, 1846), II. 
227-230; and by V. Rose in Hermes, VIII. (1874). Rose's list of the authorities 
cited by Daniel is woefully incomplete. Daniel seems to have lived in the late 
twelfth century and to have been a pupil of Gerard of Cremona. 

77 Bridges, I. 17; Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 70, 91, 187. 

78 See the excellent but little known treatise of Charles Jourdain, Disserta- 
tion sur I'Etat de la Philosophie Naturelle en Occident et principalement en 
France pendant la Premiere Moitii du Xlle Siecle (Paris, 1838). For a brief 
general survey of natural science in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, see my 
lecture referred to in note 75. 

It is still difficult even for the reader of French and German to find out much 
about medieval natural science or medicine or pharmacy. One must, then, go 
back to the original Latin sources, if not to the Arabic and other languages, and 
these sources are not easy to get at, existing in many cases only in rare old edi- 
tions or in manuscript. Histories both of science in general and of the individual 
sciences are usually compiled chiefly from old and dubious secondary sources ; 
devote little space to the Middle Ages; and too often give little more than 
biographical and bibliographical detail, which is often wrong, rather than estimate 
the authors' subject-matter. In such works, too, occult science and magic, which 
played so large and important a part, are generally neglected or misinterpreted. 

Such works, however, as the following are of considerable service : F. Danne- 
mann, Die Naturwissenschaften in ihrer Entwickelung und in ihrem Zusammen- 
hange; E. Meyer, Geschichte der Botanik (Konigsberg, 1855); M. Cantor, Vor- 
lesungen iiber Geschichte der Mathematik (Leipzig, 1913, latest ed.) ; E. Gerland, 
Geschichte der Physik (Munich, 1913) ; E. Gerland and F. Traumiiller, Geschichte 
der Physikalischen Experimentierkunst (Leipzig, 1899) ; F. Picavet, Esquisse 
d'une Histoire Comparee des Philosophies Medievales (Paris, 1905) ; and the 
writings of Daremberg on the history of medicine and of Delambre on that of 



252 Lynn Thorndike 

Secondly, except for his tirades against the Italians and their 
civil law, Bacon's criticisms apply to but two countries, France 
and England, and two universities, Oxford and Paris. Also those 
few contemporaries whom he praises are either his old Oxford 
friends or scattered individuals in France. Of the state of learn- 
ing in Italy, Spain, and Germany he says little and apparently knew 
little. Amid his sighing for some prince or prelate to play the 
patron to science, he never mentions Alfonso X. of Castile, who 
was so interested in the "mathematics" and occult science which 
were so dear to Bacon's heart; 78 Roger even still employs the old 
Toletan astronomical tables of Arzachel instead of the Alfonsine 
tables issued in 1252, the first year of that monarch's reign. 80 
While complaining of the ignorance of the natures and properties of 
animals, plants, and minerals which is shown by contemporary theo- 
logians in their explanation of Scriptural passages, Bacon not only 
slights the encyclopedias which several clergymen like Alexander 
Neckam, Bartholomew of England, Thomas of Cantimpre, and Vin- 

astronomy. In English there is an entertaining history of medicine with a good 
bibliography by E. Withington (London, 1894). In medicine and mathematics 
there are also periodicals dealing with the history of those fields such as Janus 
and Bibliotheca Mathematica. Dealing more specially with the Middle Ages are 
the following: Berthelot, La Chimie au Moyen Age (Paris, 1893), an admirable 
research bringing out many new points but after all based on the study of only 
a few of the numerous available manuscripts in medieval alchemy and chemistry ; 
Millot-Carpentier, " La Medecine au XIII e Siecle ", in Annates Internationales 
d'Histoire (Congres de Paris, 1900, 5e section, Histoire des Sciences) ; R. von 
Toply, Studien zur Geschichte der Anatomie im Mittelalter (Leipzig, 1898) ; F. 
A. Pouchet, Histoire des Sciences Naturelles au Moyen Age (Paris, 1853), lim- 
ited chiefly to an estimate of Albertus Magnus as a natural scientist ; Strunz, Ge- 
schichte der Naturwissenschaften im Mittelalter (Stuttgart, 1910, 120 pp., no 
notes). On medieval lapidaries see L. Pannier, Les Lapidaires Frangais du Moyen 
Age (Paris, 1882), and the writings of F. de Mely. Several essays by Valentine 
Rose in such periodicals as Hermes and Zeitschrift fiir Deutsches Alterthum deal 
with matters of medieval science and superstition, and call attention to neglected 
manuscripts. The numerous publications of Moritz Steinschneider upon Hebrew 
and Arabian writings and the Latin translations thereof often touch on natural 
science, alchemy, and astrology, but chiefly from the bibliographical and biograph- 
ical standpoint. Helpful in a similar way are " The Reception of Arabic Science 
in England", English Historical Review, January, 1915, and other recent articles 
by C. H. Haskins. Cousin and Haureau in their well-known works, though 
interested primarily in scholasticism, occasionally touch on science in their re- 
searches into the manuscript sources.. The Histoire Litteraire de la France some- 
times describes the contents of medieval works of natural and occult science, as 
well as the biography and bibliography of their authors. 

Of the medieval Latin texts some, like Bacon's Opus Mains and the complete 
works of Albertus Magnus, have received separate modern editions ; others, if 
written by Englishmen or by ecclesiastics of the twelfth century, are sometimes 
found in the Rolls Series or Migne's Patrologie Latine ; while many formerly 
little known works are now being published in the two series, Abhandlungen zur 
Geschichte der Mathematischen Wissenschaften (Teubner), and Beitrage zur Ge- 
schichte der Philosophic des Mittelatters (herausgegeben von C. Baeumker.) J. 
L. Pagel has edited some hitherto inaccessible works of medicine. 

79 Bacon's ignorance of Spanish would probably in any case have prevented 
him from securing Alfonso as a patron. 

so Bridges, I. 192, 196, 271, 298, 299, note. 



The True Roger Bacon 253 

cent of Beauvais had compiled ; he also says nothing of the school at 
Cologne of Albertus Magnus, whose reputation was already estab- 
lished by the middle of the century, 81 who personally investigated 
many animals, especially those of the north, and often rectified the 
erroneous assertions of classical zoologists, whom the historian of 
botany has lauded, 82 whose students too were curious to know not 
only the theoretical botany that passed under the name of Aristotle, 
but also the particular characteristics of plants, and who in his five 
books on minerals discusses the alchemy and indulges in the same 
occult science and astrology which Bacon deemed so important. 
Yet Albert was a noted theologian and biblical commentator as well 
as a student of nature. In his lamentation over the sad neglect of 
astrology among the " Latins " 83 Bacon ignores the voluminous Latin 
treatise on that art by his contemporary, Guido Bonati of the Uni- 
versity of Bologna, though it shows wide reading in both classical 
and Arabian astrologers. 84 Bacon grieves at the neglect of the 
science of optic by his age, and says that it has not yet been lectured 

si Ptolemy of Lucca (Muratori, XI., col. 1150 ff.) says that Albert and his 
pupil Aquinas were flourishing in the time of Pope Alexander IV. (1253). After 
resigning the bishopric of Ratisbon, Albert spent the last 18 years of his life 
(1262-1280) teaching at Cologne. Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant (second ed.), 
I. 36, places the beginning of the publication of Albert's great works in philosophy 
about 1245, though he puts his birth in 1206 instead of 1193, the traditional date. 
Albert seems to have spent only a few years of his life in France, perhaps about 
1248 (Hist. Litt. de la France, XIX. 362-381). 

In saying that Bacon does not mention Albert's work in natural science, I of 
course do not mean to imply that he never mentions Albert. He excuses his 
delay in answering the pope by declaring that the most noted Christian scholars, 
such as Brother Albert of the Order of Preachers and Master William of Shyr- 
wood, could not in ten years produce such a work as he transmits ; and he inci- 
dentally observes that William is a far abler scholar than Albert (Opus Tertium, 
Brewer, p. 14). I am suspicious however of the integrity of the passage (Com- 
pendium Philosophiae, Brewer, p. 426) where Bacon sneers at the theological 
teaching of " the boys of the two Orders, such as Albert and Thomas and the 
others who enter the Orders when twenty years or under ". It seems incon- 
gruous for Bacon to speak of his senior, Albert, as a boy. Other passages in 
Bacon's works which have been taken to apply to Albert, though he is not ex- 
pressly named, seem to me not to apply to him at all closely; and if meant for 
him, they show that Bacon was an incompetent and unfair critic. Not only was 
Albert only for a short time in Paris ; he does not seem to have been in sympathy 
with the conditions there which Bacon attacks. Nor can I see that Bacon is 
meant in the passage at the close of Albert's Politics (Opera, ed. Borgnet, VIII. 
803-804, and Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant, p. 332), where he declares that its 
doctrines, as in his books on physics, are not his own theories but a faithful 
reflection of peripatetic opinion; and that he makes this statement for the benefit 
of lazy persons who occupy their idle hours in searching writings for things to 
criticise ; " Such men killed Socrates, drove Plato from Athens to the Academy, 
and, plotting even against Aristotle, forced him into exile." Such a passage 
seems a commonplace one. Both Adelard of Bath and William of Conches express 
the same fear of setting forth new ideas of their own, and medieval writers not 
infrequently in their prefaces apprehend with shrinking " the bite of envy " which 
both their Horace and personal experience had taught would follow fast on pub- 
lication. 

82 E. Meyer, Gesch. d. Botanik, IV. 39-40. 

as Bridges, I. 389. 

84 Guido Bonati, Liber Astronomicus (Augsburg, 1491), 422 fols. 



254 Lynn Thorndike 

on at Paris nor among the Latins except twice at Oxford; 85 he 
does not mention the important work of Witelo, a Pole who travelled 
in Italy. 86 Perhaps the books of Witelo and Bonati were not yet 
published when Bacon wrote in 1266 and 1272, but they were 
probably well under way and their production can scarcely be at- 
tributed to his influence. 

Thirdly, while Bacon occasionally makes bitter remarks about 
the present state of learning in general, it is the teaching of theology 
at Paris and by the friars that he has most in mind and that he 
especially desires to reform. Though himself a friar and master 
of theology, he had been trained and had then himself specialized 
in the three learned languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, in 
optic and geometry, in astronomy and astrology, in alchemy and 
"experimental science", and in the writings of the classical moral- 
ists. Consequently he thought that no one could be a thorough 
theologian who did not go through the same course of training; 
nay, it was enough to ruin the reputation of any supposed scholar 
in Bacon's sight, if he were unacquainted with these indispensable 
subjects. Bacon held that it was not sufficient preparation for 
theology merely to study "the common sciences, such as Latin 
grammar, logic, and a part of natural philosophy, and a little meta- 
physics". 87 However, it was not that he objected to these studies 
in themselves, nor to the ordinary university instruction in the arts 
course ; in fact, he complains that many young friars start in to 
study theology at once and "presume to investigate philosophy by 
themselves without a teacher". 88 Bacon has a low opinion of the 
scholarship of Alexander of Hales because his university educa- 
tion had been completed before the chief authorities and com- 
mentaries in natural philosophy and metaphysics had been trans- 
lated. Against another friar generally regarded by the academic 
world as its greatest living authority Bacon brings the charge that 
"he never heard philosophy in the schools", and "was not in- 
structed nor trained in listening, reading, and disputing, so that he 
must be ignorant of the common sciences ". 89 Such passages show 
that to represent Bacon's writings as full of " sweeping attacks " 
upon the "metaphysical subtleties and verbal strifes" of his age 
is to exaggerate his position. 90 There are not many direct attacks 
upon scholastic method in his works. 

85 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 37. 

86 Baeumker, Witelo, ein Philosoph und Naturforscher des XIII. Jahrhunderts 
(Miinster, 1906). 

87 Opus Minus, Brewer, p. 324. 

88 Compendium Philosophiae , Brewer, p. 426. 

89 Opus Minus, Brewer, pp. 326-327. 
so Bridges, I. xxx. 



The True Roger Bacon 255 

It is true that Bacon complains of the lack of good teachers in 
his day, saying in the Opus Minus that he could impart to an apt 
pupil in four years all the knowledge that it had taken himself forty 
years to acquire, 91 and in the Opus Tertium that he could do it in 
a half or a quarter of a year, and that he could teach a good 
student all the Greek and Hebrew he need know in three days for 
each subject. 92 But aside from the young friars who presume to 
teach theology, the teachers against whom he rails most are those 
in his favorite subject of "mathematics". Bacon could teach more 
useful geometry in a fortnight than they do in ten or twenty years 93 
— a hint that much time was given in those days to the study of 
mathematics. These boasts are not, however, as wild as they may 
at first seem ; after all Roger did not know a vast amount of geom- 
etry and Greek and Hebrew, and he had no intention of teaching 
any more of mathematics and the languages than would be of 
service in his other sciences, in theology, and in practical life. 

It is easy to discern the personal motives which actuated Bacon 
in his criticism. He grieved to see the neglect by his fellow theo- 
logians of the subjects in which he was particularly interested, and 
to see himself second in reputation, influence, and advancement to 
the "boy theologians". It angered him that these same narrowly 
educated and narrow-minded men should "always teach against 
these sciences in their lectures, sermons, and conferences ". 9 * And 
after all, as he tells the pope, he does not wish to revolutionize the 
curriculum nor overthrow the existing educational system, "but 
that from the table of the Lord, heaped with wisdom's spoils, I, 
poor fellow, may gather the falling crumbs I need ". Comment 
would only weaken the force of this confession. 

Bacon's allusions to and dates for events in the history of 
medieval learning are sometimes hard to fit in with what we learn 
from other sources, and he has been detected in misstatements of 
the doctrines of other scholars. 95 His personal diatribes against 
the Latin translators of Greek and Arabian science seem overdrawn 
and unfair, especially when he condemns the first translators for 
not knowing the sciences in question before they ventured to trans- 
late, whereas it is plain that the sciences could not be known to the 
Latin world until the translations had been made. Indeed, it may 
be doubted if Roger himself knew Arabic well enough to read 

91 Gasquet, p. 507. 

92 Opus Tertium, Brewer, p. 65. 

93 Gasquet, p. 507. 

8* Ibid., pp. 504-505; and Bridges, I. 31; see also Opus Tertium, Brewer, 

P- 59. 

95 See notes 49 and 68. 



256 Lynn Thorndike 

scientific works therein without a translation or interpreter. Espe- 
cially unjustifiable and ill advised seems his savage onslaught upon 
William of Meerbeke, 98 whom Aquinas induced to translate 
Aristotle from the Greek, who was like Bacon interested in occult 
science, and to whom Witelo dedicated his treatise on optic. As 
William held the confidential post of papal chaplain and penitentiary 
under Clement IV., and as he became archbishop of Corinth about 
the time that Roger was condemned to prison, there may have been 
some personal rivalry and bitterness between them. 

It should be said to Bacon's credit that his own statements do not 
support the inference which others have drawn from them, that he 
was alone in the advocacy or pursuit of the studies dear to him. 
In the Opus Minus he says to the pope, with rather unusual modesty 
it must be admitted, " I confess that there are several men who 
can present to Your Wisdom in a better way than I can these very 
subjects of which I treat". 97 And though the secrets of the arts 
and sciences are neglected by the crowd of students and their 
masters, " God always has reserved some sages who know all the 
necessary elements of wisdom. Not that anyone of them knows 
every detail, however, nor the majority of them; but one knows 
one subject, another another, so that the knowledge of such sages 
ought to be combined". 98 Combine it Bacon does for the pope's 
perusal, and he is not ashamed to speak on its behalf, for though 
there are fewer Latins conversant with it than there should be, 
there are many who would gladly receive it, if they were taught. 99 
Thus he speaks not merely as an exponent of his own ideas, but as 
the representative of a movement with a considerable following at 
least outside of strictly theological circles. 

Bacon has been given great credit for pointing out the need of 
calendar revision three centuries before the papacy achieved it ; but 
he says himself that not only wise astronomers but even ordinary 
computistae were already aware of the crying need for reform, 100 
and his discussion of the calendar often coincides verbally with 
Grosseteste's Computus. 101 When Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly over a 
century later again urged the need of reform upon Pope John 

9 8 In the Compendium Philosophiae, written about 1272 (Brewer, p. 472). 
Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant, p. 40, rejects Bacon's aspersions upon William's 
translations. On William's career and writings see Hist. Litt. de la France, XXI. 
146. 

97 Gasquet, p. 505 : " Quamvis autem fatear quod plures sunt qui hec eadem 
que tracto possunt meliori modo quam ego vestre sapientie referre." 

»s Ibid., p. 502. 

»» Ibid., p. 504. 

100 Ibid., p. 515; Opus Tertium, Brewer, pp. 274, 275, 295. 

ioi l. Baur, " Der Einfluss des Robert Grosseteste auf die Wissenschaftliche 
Richtung des Roger Bacon ", in Little, Essays, p. 45. 



The True Roger Bacon 257 

XXIIL, he cited Grosseteste often, but Bacon seldom or never. 102 
The treatment of geography in the Opus Mains is simply an in- 
telligent compilation of well-known past writers, including the 
wretched work of Ethicus, supplemented from writings of the friars 
who had recently visited the Tatars. The Parisian version of the 
Bible, against which Bacon inveighs as a corruption of the Vulgate, 
was in the first instance the work of a conscientious Hebrew 
scholar; 103 and the numerous corrections and changes made in it 
since, though deplored by Bacon, show the prevalent interest in 
such matters. While Bacon holds that there are very few men 
who understand the theory of Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic grammar, 
or the technique of the sciences which have to be studied from those 
languages, he admits that many men are found among the " Latins " 
who can speak those tongues, and that there are even plenty of 
teachers of Greek and Hebrew at Paris and elsewhere in France 
and England. 104 

Lynn Thorndike. 

(To be continued,) 

102 Petrus de Alliaco, Be Correctione Kalendarii, in an edition of the works 
of d'Ailly and Gerson printed about 1480. 

103 S. A. Hirsch, " Roger Bacon and Philology ", in Little, Essays, p. 145. 

104 Opus Tertiutn, Brewer, pp. 34, and Compendium Philosophiae, Brewer, 
P. 434- 



AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XXI.— 1 7.